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U of G launches free farm business management course


January 18, 2022
By University of Guelph

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Free farm business management skills training, ranging from farm business planning to maintaining mental health, will be offered through a new, self-paced, virtual course being launched in January by the University of Guelph and partner organizations.

Believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, the University of Guelph’s new “Foundations in Agricultural Management” online certificate course will enable farmers, and especially younger producers, to brush up on their farm business management skills.

Through eight 20-minute video modules recorded with University of Guelph experts, participants will learn the basics of business planning, finance, human resources, risk management, farm family transitions, and farmer mental health and resilience. The course will be offered four times a year.

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The new venture is funded by a three-year, $1.25-million donation from the RBC Foundation and with support from Farm Credit Canada (FCC).

“This new course is intended to help farmers make better agribusiness decisions,” said John Cranfield, associate dean (external relations) of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC). “We’re a natural partner in that regard, given OAC’s history, size and reputation.”

Organizers anticipate that a total of 50,000 producers will take part in at least one module over the next two years.

Cranfield said the modules are intended to ensure that farm operators understand the fundamentals of business operations, underpinning a skilled workforce in this sector while giving farmers the knowledge and confidence to achieve desired growth.

“We want to help producers think more about the topics in the module and motivate them to take action,” he said.

Among the topics, he expects family transitions and mental health will attract plenty of interest.

“Family farm transition is one of the biggest issues in Canadian agriculture right now. We know that many farmers are thinking about passing on the family farm to the next generation. Conversations about succession planning can be really stressful and challenging for all farm family members.”

Course modules feature faculty experts from three colleges

Each module was filmed on campus (following COVID-19 protocols) with University of Guelph faculty members in OAC, the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, and the Ontario Veterinary College, as follows:

  • Business planning and strategy: Mike von Massow, department of food, agricultural and resource economics (FARE);
  • Financial literacy: Richard Vyn, FARE, and Ken McEwan, Ridgetown Campus;
  • Human resource management: Sara Mann, department of management;
  • Risk management: Getu Hailu, FARE;
  • Family farm transition planning: Alfons Weersink, FARE, and Julia Christensen Hughes, former dean of the Lang School;
  • Mental health and resilience: Andria Jones-Bitton, department of population medicine.

“Within the agricultural industry, producers are actively seeking resources to support them as their farm operations become larger and more complex,” said OAC dean Rene Van Acker. “I am confident that this course will equip producers with the knowledge and resources they need to run successful farm operations for generations to come.”

Participants may view modules at their own pace; they must complete a short quiz before moving to the next section.

The modules were designed during consultations between University of Guelph members and experts at RBC and FCC. Planning began this past fall after RBC approached OAC to discuss the idea. The format is modelled after a personal finance course developed by RBC along with McGill University.

There are about 270,000 farm operators across Canada, according to the 2016 agricultural census.

“The Canadian agriculture sector is an important contributor to our nation’s economic resilience and competitiveness on the world stage, and it has the potential to add another $11 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2030,” said Neil McLaughlin, group head, personal and commercial banking, with RBC.

“We look forward to providing valuable resources that will help Canadian farmers expand their capabilities and grow their operations, while contributing to the long-term sustainability of the industry.”

FCC president and CEO Michael Hoffort said, “In today’s agriculture industry, having sound farm business management is more important than ever. I believe the course material is beneficial for today’s Canadian producers, and given that it’s free, online and self-directed, this will undoubtedly lead to better efficiency and innovation, ensuring a bright future for agriculture in Canada.”

Registration for the course began on Jan. 17.